The Dangers of Undiagnosed Brain Injuries in Children

The Dangers of Undiagnosed Brain Injuries in ChildrenTraumatic brain injuries can have a lasting impact on a person’s life, especially when the person suffers the injury as a child. Their brain is still developing and the impact of the injury could cause developmental delays and struggles with life skills down the road. For these reasons, a child should be taken to the emergency room immediately if they suffer a head injury or fall in order to check for possible brain injuries. An undiagnosed brain injury in a child can have devastating impacts.

Mild head trauma in children can have serious long-term effects

A child who suffers minor head trauma can have serious long-term consequences, according to research from a group of doctors and scientists at the University of Oxford in England. Researchers working on the study looked at 100,000 Swedes who suffered a traumatic brain injury prior to their 25th birthday, as well as their siblings who had not experienced a similar injury.

The study found that those who suffered TBI at a young age were more at risk of dying young and having difficulty functioning as adults.

“The key finding is that these increased risks remained elevated even after comparison with unaffected siblings, which is consistent with [the notion] that TBIs partly cause these outcomes,” study author Dr. Seena Fazel said. “The worst outcome is clearly premature mortality, but after that the increased risks of psychiatric hospitalization are notable.”

The participants of the study were born between 1973 and 1985, and the majority who suffered a brain injury had experienced it at the average age of thirteen. After the participants turned 26, researchers followed them for eight years. The report discovered the following effects of mild trauma to the brain:

  • Greater than a 10 percent risk of being diagnosed with psychiatric disorders once the patient reached adulthood
  • A two percent risk of dying early
  • Twice as likely as their uninjured siblings to be hospitalized for psychiatric problems
  • 80 percent more likely than their uninjured siblings to receive a disability pension

“For some time, there has been speculation within the medical community that there is a strong link between traumatic brain injury and psychiatric issues,” said Dr. Bradley Sandella, of the Christiana Care Health System in Wilmington, Delaware. He continued:

Essentially, the belief is that the brain injury can trigger or exacerbate the symptoms of a psychiatric illness. I found it somewhat surprising that there was a higher increase in mortality at a younger age. While I am aware there could be a minor spike in suicides, a 2 percent absolute risk increase is surprisingly high. However, more needs to be done, including the banning of dangerous or reckless plays in sports that place people at risk for injuries.

Undiagnosed brain injuries in children take an emotional toll

It is not uncommon for a brain injury in a child to go undiagnosed. Many children will not exhibit outward signs of brain injury if they suffer a closed-head injury (one in which there is no cut to the head or impalement by an object). These often occur as a result of falls, car accidents, and from playing contact sports.

Claire Galloway’s son Luke died by suicide at age 22 after suffering a closed-head brain injury at a playground 20 years earlier. Luke was hit in the head by a swing in full motion. After the accident, his injury was ignored by doctors, teachers, and specialists. It left a lasting emotional impact on Luke, his mother, and the rest of the family.

Immediately following Luke’s accident, I realized something was seriously wrong [his mother said]. But because he appeared to be ‘fine’ on the outside, no one took his symptoms seriously—not his pediatrician, his teachers, two pediatric neurologists, several child psychologists, or family and friends. Both the symptoms and the lack of help or support took a devastating toll—not just on Luke, but also on the entire family.

The injury Luke suffered was invisible, which led doctors and teachers to blame his parents for the behaviors he exhibited following the accident. Luke’s brain injury went undiagnosed for 16 years. As Luke’s parents battled to receive a diagnosis, Luke suffered from seizures, challenges in school, anxiety, depression, social isolation, and impulsive behaviors.

Luke was finally diagnosed with TBI at the age of 18, however, there was no treatment plan found to help him. Luke died by suicide at the age of 22 while still fighting depression, anxiety, and seizures.

“The fact that things didn’t add up about Luke’s cognitive abilities, which didn’t begin to show fully until middle school, kept me in a haze of confusion,” says Galloway. “You can try to force yourself into balanced thought, but with TBI, balanced thought does not fit the situation. Even if everyone around you insists that your child is going to be fine, the realities surrounding him are pointing in another direction. It is nearly impossible to calm your mind.”

Galloway has used her tragic story to help other parents with children who have undiagnosed TBI get the help they need. She also warns parents that when doctors, teachers, and specialists ignore the symptoms children are presenting, there will be struggles within the family to keep things together.

“When professionals fail to make the connection between a blow to your child’s head and the changes you report, it causes strife in the family unit,” Galloway said. “Before, we had easily been on the same parenting page, but now, as if the changes to Luke weren’t bad enough, my husband and I were experiencing our first shift into opposing views.”

The Huntsville traumatic brain injury lawyers of Martin & Helms can help if your child was injured in a car crash, from a fall, by a defective product, or by any act of negligence by another person. Call us at 256-539-1990, or complete our contact form to schedule a consultation today. We have offices in Huntsville and Decatur and serve clients in Madison, Athens, and throughout North Alabama.